Disco Pigs

Charlie Murphy and Rory Fleck-Byrne in the Young Vic production of 'Disco Pigs'.

Charlie Murphy and Rory Fleck-Byrne in the Young Vic production of 'Disco Pigs'.

Charlie Murphy and Rory Fleck-Byrne in the Young Vic production of 'Disco Pigs'.

Charlie Murphy and Rory Fleck-Byrne in the Young Vic production of 'Disco Pigs'.

Charlie Murphy and Rory Fleck-Byrne in the Young Vic production of 'Disco Pigs'.

Charlie Murphy and Rory Fleck-Byrne in the Young Vic production of 'Disco Pigs'.

Disco Pigs was a risky choice for Cathal Cleary, winner of the prestigious JMK Trust award, which enables an emerging director to stage a production at the award’s host theatre (this year the Young Vic). This was, of course, the play that gave Enda Walsh (and Cillian Murphy) to the world: Pat Kiernan’s world premiere production for Corcadorca in 1996 was an unprecedented success for the ‘90s wave of independent Irish theatre companies, touring the world and earning practically unanimous rave reviews.

Though it’s been staged several times since in Ireland in professional and student contexts, this is its first significant UK revival, and supplanting memories of Kiernan’s stripped-back approach, and Murphy and Eileen Walsh’s ferociously energetic performances, was always going to be tough. Nostalgia was certainly running high at the Young Vic on press night, with critics recalling to each other with fondness and clarity the electrifying quality of the show’s 1996 Edinburgh Fringe premiere.

Disco Pigs at the Young Vic.But it was also already clear that Cleary was going his own way with the play: as audiences entered the 65-seat Clare Studio, performers Rory Fleck-Byrne and Charlie Murphy were already crashing around the stage, jumping on furniture, and playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” on a (purposely, it seems quite clear) annoying loop on hand-held ‘80s issue cassette players. Chloe Lamford’s scenic design is pretty much the opposite of stripped-back: the forestage is littered with clapped-out furniture and covered with horrendous B&B-style carpeting, while behind this a flimsy plywood structure with plastic sheeting curtains on a slightly raised platform suggests a world beyond this oppressive domesticity. The look of the set is so reminiscent of Sabine Dargent’s design for Walsh’s stunning 2006 play The Walworth Farce that it is surely a knowing quote. Another risky choice on Cleary’s part: by placing this in a continuum of Walsh’s work he is asking to be considered as a player in that story.

And by the evidence of this production he deserves to be. This is a less aggressive, more illustrated take on the play than Kiernan’s: Pig and Runt act out the story of their side-by-side births with Barbie dolls; and they make two life-size mannequins stand in for the major figures they meet – the bus driver, barman, and bouncer. The outside world is thus to a certain extent made material, but the fact that this all takes place within the larger domestic frame keeps the play’s central tension – between Pig and Runt’s private world of shared language, reference, and experience; and the big bad world of ‘Pork Sity’ that is so alluring, but so threatening to their intimacy – active.

'Disco Pigs' at the Young Vic.Cleary has cast brilliantly: Murphy extends her rising star status with a performance of astonishing emotional transparency as Runt. Using her expressive facial and body language she subtly communicates the character’s emerging sense of self-awareness and, eventually, her need to distance herself from Pig. The mixed emotions playing across her face – enlightenment, pain, regret, release – as the play ends and she stops speaking their invented language (“Pork… Cork”) make this an extremely moving moment.

Fleck-Byrne flips between just-on-the-edge-of-excessively-manic energy and a still, glassy-eyed grin, underlining the text’s suggestion that Pig has sociopathic tendencies. While unnerving, this keeps the stakes high and provides a good set-up for the play’s tragic ending. Fleck-Byrne particularly shines in the fantasy monologue about making love to Runt: he makes it seem as if these scarily marvellous ideas are coming to him just as he’s speaking them, adding further pathos to the story’s eventual outcome.

Excellent reviews in several major UK daily newspapers indicate that Cleary’s risks have paid off: this is an excellent launching pad for a career that seems worth watching with interest.

Karen Fricker lectures in contemporary theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London and is deputy London theatre critic for Variety (US).

  • Review
  • Theatre

Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh

2 - 28 September, 2011

Produced by Young Vic
In Young Vic (Clare Studio)

Directed by Cathal Cleary

Sets and Costume Design: Chloe Lamford

Lighting Design: Anna Watson

Sound Design: Tom Gibbons

With: Rory Fleck-Byrne, Charlie Murphy